Friday, September 30, 2011

French colonial-style in the heart of Hanoi

Since it was established in 1901 by two French investors, the Metropole has reigned as the most prestigious address in Vietnam and the social hub of the capital, with a guest list that includes the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene. And just in time for its 110th anniversary, the landmark has debuted two new looks for its signature bar and lounge, both long popular gathering spots for the city's social set and the ideal place for relaxing and kicking back on a balmy Hanoi evening! 

The Metropole spent more than three months on the makeover of the Bamboo Bar, working carefully to enhance the bar's facilities while retaining the original rustic, tropical design and ambience that has made it a favourite rendezvous in the city. Gather around the central island bar or find a cozy corner to cozy up together to enjoy the redesigned drink menu, which now features a new ice tea and fruit juice mocktail selection, as well as the "Metropole Splash," a mix of fresh fruit, syrup, and soda water with a wine base. Aside from raising the ceiling to create a brighter, more expansive atmosphere, the Metropole has also created a new covered entrance leading to the bar, and installed a mist system for summer days, so patrons can enjoy their Graham Greene cocktails in any weather. 

At the same time, the Metropole will unveil its brand-new rooftop garden lounge, Le Balcon, that will serve as a tropical oasis of calm in the heart of the historic property. In step with the French colonial aesthetic of the Metropole, Le Balcon is positioned to be an ideal venue for weddings, fashion shows, intimate dinners and private events, and with the 300-square-metre open-air garden furnished with classic park benches, guests can relax with a novel or catch up with friends while enjoying sweeping views of the hotel's green inner courtyard. Le Balcon will also double as peaceful venue for the Metropole's morning Pilates and yoga classes.

Opened in 1901, Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi reigns as the Grande Dame of Vietnamese hospitality and one of Southeast Asia's most iconic hotels. Its historic Metropole Wing features suites named for Charlie Chaplin, Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene, each of whom 'stopped' at the Metropole during their travels through the region. A stay here is like stepping back in to the nostalgic elegance of colonial Indochina - a perfect way to experience romance while traveling through Vietnam! 

For reservations, call + 84 43 9386 999 or head to their website.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A star-studded gala welcomes Mandarin Oriental to Paris

A glamorous and star-studded party has welcomed the Mandarin Oriental, Paris in to  the city's high society on September 22nd, with more than 500 celebrities, dignitaries and guests attending the official opening of the prestigious property, located on one of Paris' most stylish (and one of the world's most fashionable!) streets, Rue Saint-Honoré. 
Surrounded by haute couture and only a few steps away from the city’s famous attractions, the Mandarin Oriental sets out to have a class of its own for those seeking out the highest level of sophistication and luxury in the City of Lights. 
And in true Mandarin Oriental style, the hotel will offer guests the ultimate in service and design, with a strong sense of place, and a style and personality of its own, carefully designed with the very best of a Parisian lifestyle in mind. The 138 rooms and suites are among the most spacious in Paris, incorporating state-of-the-art technology, while a vast inner courtyard will offer outdoor dining in Spring and Summer (the perfect place for afternoon cocktails!). There is also a choice of restaurants and bars under Executive Chef and Culinary Director Thierry Marx, and the Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Paris delivers high end relaxation in a peaceful, modern setting.  An indoor pool and a fully-equipped fitness centre complete the hotel's leisure facilities. Little wonder the industry and the 'it' scene are already marking this as one of the most attractive and classy addresses!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Get naked in sustainable luxury - 'Stables Private Reserve', China

Set on 60 pristine acres in its own private valley, surrounded by a reservoir, bamboo and tea plantations in the beautiful Moganshan hills in Zhejiang Province, two and a half hours from Shanghai, the naked Retreats Stables Private Reserve is getting ready to open it's doors on October 1st. And guests are in for a special kind of nature-inspired escape! 

This sustainable luxury spa resort and equestrian reserve features 121 beautifully appointed rooms in free-standing Tree-Top Villas and Earth Huts, fitted out in signature naked style. Founded by South African Grant Horsfield, the naked Retreats concept was conceived to communicate the philosophy of stripping away a busy cosmopolitan city lifestyle and restoring balance through closeness to nature, and boy, this place really nails it!  

As well as the very rustic-chic rooms, there's also an Afro-Asian restaurant Kikaboni (meaning ‘organic’ in Swahili) and Clubhouse Bar & Bistro; a 750 sqm naked Leaf Spa & Wellness Centre; three outdoor swimming pools; a Tea Pavilion, Bamboo Museum and Pottery Studio; Little Shoots Kids Club; and a fully equipped Equestrian Centre with operational stables for 20 horses. 

We are loving the sound of the Earth Hut for a totally unique kind of romantic ambience, hidden away in the seclusion of a pine forest (that's the round huts pictured above ... kind of quirky and cool, don't you think?). 

And with the bonus of an opening special deal for October and November, couples can double their pleasure with an extra night thrown in absolutely free with every overnight stay. The bathtub will be filled upon arrival and your host is on hand to provide room service and serve breakfast in bed. Share special moments during a pampering couple’s massage, a picnic in the bamboo forest and a romantic dinner at Kikaboni. Priced at RMB 2,100 per person (two nights; minimum two people), plus 15 percent service charge.

For more information visit their website, phone reservations: +86 (21) 6431 8901, or email:

Friday, September 23, 2011

Hotel Santa Caterina, Amalfi (tell them Kim Kardashian sent you!)

Considering the media circus that was reality-TV star Kim Kardashian's wedding to her NBA beau Kris Humphries, their honeymoon was kept, surprisingly, private! But if you want to know where they escaped to for a whirlwind honeymoon, take a look at the stunning Hotel Santa Caterina, a late 19th century liberty style villa on the Amalfi Coast of Italy!

Yep, this is where Mr & Mrs K & K Humphires/Kardashian spent their first days as newlyweds. Apparently they stayed in the aptly named 'Romeo and Juliet' chalet for a cool $3,300 a night (that's it pictured!). You can't get much more spectacular then the Amalfi Coast - it's well known as a playground of the rich and famous. And if we could live like that, even for a few days, I think it would be some place like this! Make like Kim, and check yourselves in to the Hotel Santa Caterina for a romantic holiday or honeymoon in a mediterranean heaven!

Sydney prepares to 'uncork' the best of Hunter Valley wines

Locals and visitors to Sydney can prepare to spend the next month indulging in the very best of the Hunter Valley's premium wines, with the inaugural Hunter Valley Uncorked Festival happening from October 12th to November 6th!

Taste and discover the distinctive characteristics of the fine wines that make this region known as the birthplace of Australian wine - and a connoisseur's delight! The Hunter Valley produces some of the best wines in the world, including the signature variety Semillon, and the festival plays host to more than 20 Hunter Valley wineries and producers, with several events to be hosted in and around the city.

For a full month’s program, individual event details, accommodation and tickets visit the Uncorked website.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Moroccan magic at Royal Mansour

And if you're looking for a good dose of glamour upon finishing your Moroccan adventure in Marrakech (see our post below!), this is the kind of place you might like to splash out on for stay! 
The Royal Mansour is the epitome of sophisticated luxe in a city that is becoming increasingly known for high-end designer hotels and a high society to match. Emulating a radiant Moroccan lifestyle and honouring traditional architecture and craftsmanship, Royal Mansour has been built like a traditional medina, with buildings, squares and gardens interspersed with intricate winding paths covering 3.5 hectares, and a decor that is modeled on the traditional Moorish architecture of North Africa, Spain, and Portugal. It is completely surrounded by its own 5-metre wall - one side being the existing ancient city wall - turning this in to a private oasis of peace and calm where guests can retreat, relax and indulge in the very best of Moroccan hospitality. You know as soon as you enter the inner medina through the labyrinthine marble paved paths and courtyards upon your arrival that this is a very special place -  exemplified by an intricate series of underground tunnels to each of the property’s 53 riads (traditional Moroccan house or palace) which are accessed only by staff and thus guaranteeing the utmost privacy and discretion.
Each riad is distinctive in character and individually decorated with intricate hand-crafted techniques and finished with the finest fabrics, antiques and custom-made furniture of the highest specification. An exciting fusion of tradition and modernity, the riads are complete with state of the art technology, including roofs with sensors to automatically close at a drop of rain (pretty cool, right?!). 
The Royal Mansour is also home to a beautiful spa where you can partake in a spiritual journey, with a menu of treatments based on Moroccan rituals, the traditional hammams (bath houses) being the pièces de resistances!
And, in keeping with the exemplary standards throughout Royal Mansour, a tantalising array of restaurants and bars is on offer. Under the supervision of Yannick Alléno, the famous Michelin three-star Parisian chef, there are two gastronomic restaurants: La Grande Table Marocaine offering the very best traditional Moroccan cuisine with an innovative contemporary twist; and La Grande Table Francaise, showcasing the finest in French gourmet cuisine. The lobby area houses La Table, a beautiful loggia and al fresco restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, and a number of private dining room and lounge options. Guests may also dine in the privacy of their riads, either in the cool interior or on the roof terrace.
More than another palace, Royal Mansour is Moroccan living at its finest - sophisticated and stylish, it's also extremely beautiful, the embodiment of the art and culture of stunning Marrakech. How about a little hit of luxe with your exotica? Yes, please!

A Moroccan Caravan with Peregrine Adventures

Final photo: courtesy Steve Wroe

We love the sound of the new Morocco tours just announced by Peregrine Adventures! Discover all the colour and culture of a Moroccan Caravan with a 16-day adventure that mixes mountains and medinas, camels and Kasbahs. The adventure begins in Tangier  - one of Lonely Planet's Top 10 Cities to Visit in 2011 - and, along the way, you will visit the blue-and-whitewashed village of Chefchaouen, tucked into the rugged Rif Mountains of the north, and the imperial cities of Meknes and Fes, where the labyrinthine medina is redolent of tantalising spice mixtures and the narrow alleys are packed with stalls selling everything from dates to donkeys.
And for a truly breathtaking experience, mount your own camel for a sunset ride into the Sahara to spend the night in a Bedouin camp under the stars! There is also a day exploring the Roman ruins at Volubilis and another among the crumbling, rose-coloured Kasbahs of the Dades Valley.
 Crossing the High Atlas Mountains, the trip ends with a couple of days in Marrakech among the sorcerers, snake charmers and assorted wares of the World Heritage-listed Jemaa el Fna - the enormous public square that is the heart of the city. It all sounds so enchantingly exotic! 
The Moroccan Caravan departs monthly (more frequently in peak periods) from Tangier, costing $2195 per person, twin share, land only. This includes all transport, transfers, accommodation, entry fees, some meals and a local Peregrine leader.
There is also the shorter 11-day tour,  designed for those with limited time, as an introduction to northern Morocco while still including the three imperial cities of Fes, Meknes and Marrakech. The Colours of Morocco has between one and three departures per month from Tangier, year-round, and costs $1595 per person, twin share. This includes all transport, transfers, accommodation, entry fees, some meals and the services of a Peregrine local leader.
The new Moroccan trips are show-cased in Peregrine's just-released North Africa and Middle East 2011-13 brochure. Contact your travel agent to get more information, or call the Peregrine Travel Centre on 1300 854 500. You can also take yourself direct to their website where you can download an on-line version.

The Cook Islands - A Polynesian Paradise

We are so lucky here in Australia where Holidays for Couples is based to have so many amazing destinations so close to home! Tropical island holidays abound, and some of the most stunning places - and relatively undiscovered by all but the most savvy travelers - are said to be found in the Cook Islands.  
You'll find this modern Polynesian nation of 15 islands scattered across a vast swathe of the Pacific Ocean in the centre of the Polynesian triangle, flanked by Tonga to the west, Tahiti to the east, and Hawaii to the north.  The flight from Sydney takes six hours to the main island of Rarotonga, and when you get there, prepare to be greeted by some truly breathtaking scenery! 
With a rare beauty, a tropical climate, warm welcoming people and a pace of life that is slowed way, way down to total 'chill out', the Cook Islands boast all the ingredients for romance and relaxation. 
Rarotonga is the most populated island and the capital of the Cook Islands - it's also where the international airport is and the main town of Avarua, and it is dominated by a once mighty volcanic pyramid. Here the skyline is punctuated by sawtooth peaks and razorback ridges carpeted in lush green vegetation that fall into a reef-encircled turquoise lagoon, making for easy access to a kaleidoscope of land and lagoon based tours and activities.
The coral atoll of Aitutaki, a 45 minute flight north, is a also must-see for visitors to the islands, as it boasts arguably the most beautiful lagoon in the world! Aitutaki simply exudes romance and is a magnet for wedding parties, honeymooners and those renewing their love. Snorkel, dive, kayak or swim in the exquisitely coloured lagoon and its many dazzling white sand motus (islets). Other popular diversions are kite surfing, bonefishing or lagoon cruises - get your passport stamped at One Foot Island - or delving into Aitutaki's interesting history on a cultural or 4WD tour.
Accommodation on both Rarotonga and Aitutaki ranges from the ultimate in five star indulgence to home stay, with a multiplicity of mid range and budget places in between. 
And the local cuisine is considered some of the best of the Pacific Islands, with abundant seafood and locally grown fruit and vegetables featuring on the menus of terrific, inexpensive restaurants and beachside bars.
With new direct flights from Sydney and the allure of a true south sea holiday, as well as the strength of the Australian dollar against the Cook Islands' NZ dollar currency, they won't stay undiscovered for long! 
Air New Zealand flies direct from Sydney to Rarotonga every Saturday and has a special on sale until 30 September 2011 from $380 one way, for travel 18 October to 16 December 2011. What a bargain!
Which leaves me asking the question ... why on earth have I not been to the Cook Islands yet? It's definitely time to do something about that! 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Suitcase Essential: Tigerlily

Tigerlily Spring/Summer 2011/2012
Photographer: Jess Smith
Model: Elyse Taylor

Talk about some seriously sexy, stylish swimwear and resort wear for your tropical holiday! Loving the Spring/Summer 2011/2012 collection from Tigerlily. I know what I'll be packing for my up coming trip to Bali. Love!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dream Destination: Dolphin Island, Fiji

This week's Dream Destination is just made for a group of couples seeking out an island escape like no other! Imagine crystal clear waters, palm fringed beach, your own private island in Fiji, with 13 acres as your playground ... sounds more than a little dreamy, doesn't it? That's the kind of thing waiting for you at Dolphin Island, and there's plenty of room to bring some friends or family. The perfect place for that special, intimate destination wedding, perhaps?! 

As the sister property of iconic Huka Lodge and part of The Huka Retreats, Dolphin Island was once used solely by owner Alex van Heeren for his own family's holidays when his children were growing up (lucky them!). It's recently gone through a huge transformation to welcome international guests to come and stay. It's stylish refurbishment was overseen by Viginia Fisher (design) and Suzanne Turley (landscaping), so it now provides four bure suites allowing up to eight guests the ultimate private island experience. Dawn, a wonderful local Fijian who for years looked after Alex's family and the occasional visitor from Huka Lodge, is still there with a small and very discreet team who are on hand as much or little as required.  It remains very much a low key, yet now extremely stylish and elegant experience in only the way that the Huka Retreats knows how to do.

The main bure, with its fabulous palm-thatched roof and architecturally detailed elevation, holds court and is the heart of the social areas, surrounded as it is by the guest bures. There is an infinity pool to enjoy, a much, much bigger pool beyond with that crystal ocean beckoning you for long swims. 

With 13-acres of private island on your doorstep, there's no shortage of great activities to keep even the most active of guests enjoying the outdoors ... that is, if you can ever pull yourself away from a pool side lounge or manage to pry yourself off the hammock! The coral reefs just off shore provide aquatic adventures like snorkeling, tanking, diving, sailing and kayaking. Or you can learn more about the Fijian culture with a guided visit to nearby villages and areas of historical interest. Or just relax with some pure indulgent pampering, with massages and facials available on a whim. How much you do on Dolphin Island is completely up to you. The days here can idle by with one thing the mainstay ... total relaxation!

Meals at Dolphin Island reflect the nature of this stunning place, featuring fresh produce and many flavours and ingredients used that are unique to Fijian cuisine. And, of course, freshly caught fish features prominently on the daily menu! Guests can select their preference from the catch and it will be beautifully prepared and served. Top it off with the freshest tropical fruit in bucket loads (mmm, papaya!), devoured with the smell of fresh island flowers all around and that magical view spread out before you, and you have yourself a full sensory experience!

Getting to Dolphin Island can be as adventurous or low key as you like. Following your arrival at Nadi Intrnational Airport, guests can travel for 2.5 hours by private car (included within tariff), or choose to transfer by float plane or helicopter to Dolphin Island. The island's own private boat will then transfer guests to their own private island retreat. Our hot tip: get your favourite group of couples together, show them what's waiting at Dolphin Island, and head out for one of the most sublime Pacific island holidays you've ever had!